CUNY’s ReSTART Central Expands 9/11 Recovery Services With $500,000 Ernst & Young Grant

The windows of Steamers Landing were shattered. The seafood restaurant two city blocks from Manhattan’s Ground Zero was shrouded in September 11’s ghostly white dust, dust so thick that it looked like a blanket of new-fallen snow. And the tables and chairs had vanished, appropriated by the Red Cross and the Salvation Army for use in the rescue operation.

Jan Fried and John Calder stared at the debris in disbelief. They had been serving Wall Streeters for 13 years at the foot of the Hudson River, and now they needed to start all over. But they didn’t know where to start.

So they, like some 970 other owners of small businesses in Lower Manhattan that were devastated by last year’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, turned to ReSTART Central to get a jump start on rebuilding.

Steamers Landing received free computer printers from ReStart Central and critical assistance with getting grants and loans to rebuild. The restaurant reopened within seven months of the attack.

“ReSTART was there when you couldn’t get ahold of people you needed,” Calder says. “They were there to back up and clarify information in that time of unbelievable haze.” Fried adds that it was “ReSTART that made us physically and mentally able to reopen.”

The New York City Partnership, in cooperation with the Empire State Development Corporation and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, created Restart Central in response to the 9/11 attacks. Funding was provided by the Empire State Development Corporation, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Now, on the first anniversary of the attacks, ReSTART is getting its own new start. ReSTART has become part of The City University of New York Economic Development Corporation, which recently won a $500,000 grant from Ernst & Young’s Disaster Relief Fund to allow ReSTART to expand its committment to lower Manhattan.

“We want to utilize the great depth of this University’s intellectual capital to assist in the recovery and economic development of our city, ” said Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. “We see this as part of our mission.”

“Ernst & Young is proud to help in the rebuilding of businesses that were affected by the tragic events of September 11, 2001,” said James S. Turley, chairman of Ernst & Young. “These companies — mostly small and individually or family owned — contribute mightily to the economic health of their neighborhoods. Therefore, they are especially deserving of the support of Restart Central.”

Paige Sutherland, the executive director of ReSTART, says that although the organization has already provided some $3.6 million in goods and services and many of the mom-and-pop shops have reopened, more aid is needed to keep these small businesses in business. “They are still struggling, their income is down 20, 30, 40 percent from last year; their foot traffic and customers are gone,” she says.

Their survival, she adds is crucial to the city: they employ over 10,000 people, which represents 10 percent of the estimated 109,000 small-business employees downtown, and they generate some $21 billion annually in sales.

“In the beginning, they needed office supplies like computers and advice on getting grants,” she says. “Now, they need to get more business, and they need to create marketing plans, which some of them have never had to do because they relied on foot traffic.”

ReSTART, Sutherland says, is in a unique position to help small businesses like Steamers Landing. “What makes us different,” she says, “is that we are one-stop shopping for them. We pair each business with a business advocate, volunteer or paid, who has an average of 10 years experience in the private sector. They act as mentors. We’re reactive and pro-active. Business owners can call us about things, and we call them when we learn about something new.

ReSTART is a good model for how to apply business skills to all small businesses, not just the ones that were affected by the terrorist attacks.”

It is through CUNY’s Economic Development Corp., Sutherland says, that ReSTART will enter its next phase — providing long-term ongoing help. In addition to providing a fully equipped Manhattan office at CUNY’s West 31st Street address for ReSTART’s seven full-time paid staff members and its 10 to 20 volunteers, CUNY is discussing a variety of programs with ReSTART, including internships that would allow Honors College students to provide assistance in Ground Zero businesses.

“We expect that ReSTART will grow into a major business assistance program that will provide support to the many small and medium size businesses throughout the city,” said Louise Mirrer, CUNY’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs who also serves as the president of the CUNY Economic Development Corp.

“CUNY was the obvious place to [work with us] because the chancellor has reached out to the business community of New York for synergies where they can both help each other,” Sutherland says. “The funding is for one year, but all parties are hoping it will go beyond our original mandate. We want to take off the ‘re-‘ from ReSTART’s ‘rebuild’ and just make it ‘build.”

Although business is, indeed, picking up at Steamers Landing, Calder and Fried aren’t quite ready to give up their ReSTART rep. It cost them $258,000 to reopen the restaurant and they are wrangling with their insurance company over payment of claims and are looking into new sources of funding. “We still talk with our advocate,” Calder says. “It’s comfortable to know that someone is out there.”